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"I got a million more stories
And only half aren't true
Here inside Willamette Mountain."
Willamette Mountain is Indie-Folk/singer-songwriter Joshua James’ farmhouse in Utah, named after a purely fictional mountain, whose name was in turn inspired by the Willamette Valley of Oregon, where he recorded From The Top Of Willamette Mountain. Whether it was intentional or not, naming a mountain after a valley was entirely appropriate in a metaphorical sense considering the album’s lyrics, which deal with life’s ups and downs; love and loss, life and death. According to Joshua James, the concept behind naming his rustic homestead Willamette Mountain was “to be able to create an imaginary place where anything and everything was possible.” And that’s what he and his wife did, growing a garden, their own vegetables and fruit trees, and surrounding themselves with animals (chickens, goats, honeybees). Joshua James: “My home is my muse, it’s where all that exists in my realm resides. My lover, my friends, my animals, the mystic…my escape from the rest of the world.”
This rural/domestic idyll soon inspired the songs Joshua James wrote and thus contributed to the album’s earthy aesthetic and atmosphere. Queen Of The City is one such song, written one night when he was home alone while his wife was working yet another night shift at the local hospital. He was sipping a bit of bourbon and strumming his acoustic guitar, when his faithful dog came into the room and curled his body around his feet, upon which Joshua James spontaneously sang out the charmingly quirky lyric “My dog ain’t nothin’, ain’t nothin’ like my lover”. Featuring melodic guitar riffs and a hook-laden chorus, the infectiously catchy Queen Of The City is Willamette Mountain’s most overtly radio-friendly song and was released as the first single. Equally attention-grapping and memorable – if too melancholic to be considered mainstream – are So Did I and Sister, two tracks whose tempo-shifts and dynamics alternately evoke repressed tension and dramatic emotional eruption.
Surrender seemingly celebrates the ability to “live in the now”, the importance of letting go of the past and not worrying too much about – or expecting too much of – the future (“But I don’t believe in much / No, I don’t believe in much”), a sentiment captured by the quietly uplifting Waltz-like piano and the carefree “Sha-la-la’s”. Ghost In The Town, Willamette Mountain and Holly, Halej are all gorgeous, alluring Indie-Folk ballads bolstered by Joshua James’ expressive, soulful, elastic voice – one moment it’s fragile and quivering, the next it’s extremely intense, Gospel-ish, almost possessed. Produced by The Shins’ Richard Swift, From The Top Of Willamette Mountain is the greatest contemporary Folk album since Ray LaMontagne’s Trouble.